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Georgia-Pacific said Thursday that it's investing $40 million in new technology and equipment at its Fort Smith plant.

The expansion at the company's Dixie plant, which has been in operation since 1948, will increase its paper-plate production capability. The plant also makes other paper products. Construction is underway, and the new line is expected to begin production in 2015.

Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, is headquartered in Atlanta, according to the company's website. It employs about 35,000 people at more than 200 facilities worldwide. The company's consumer brands include Dixie, Brawny and Angel Soft.

The Fort Smith plant expansion is part of more than $100 million in planned investment for 2014 in other Georgia-Pacific and Koch facilities in Arkansas. In the state, Georgia-Pacific operations employ more than 2,400 people with total annual compensation and benefits of $179 million, according to a company release.

"This latest investment will further modernize the plant and improve its long-term competitiveness in plate manufacturing while meeting the growing demand of our consumers and customers," Dixie plant director Larry Balch said in a release.

Julie VanDeWater, a company spokesman, declined to say exactly how many jobs the expansion will generate. She said the plant employs 350 now, and with attrition and other factors taken into account, it is expected to have slightly more than that number when the new line opens.

Georgia-Pacific received various incentives from the state, including an income tax credit based on the total payroll of new jobs; a sales tax refund on building materials, taxable machinery and equipment associated with the expansion; $1 million from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund; and the assistance of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission with any training needs.

Preliminary data on the Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area -- which covers Sebastian, Crawford and Franklin counties in Arkansas and Le Flore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma -- show the region's unemployment rate at 5.9 percent for April, down from 7.5 percent from the same period a year ago. The statistical area's workforce stood at 126,596, down from 131,065 for April 2013. The average unemployment rate for Arkansas in April was 6.1 percent, down from 7.1 a year ago.

Tim Allen, CEO and president of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the Georgia-Pacific plant has been a strong and stabilizing force in the city's manufacturing sector. He said the investment shows the company's commitment to its Fort Smith operation.

"It's great to have new companies come to the city, but it's also good to see an existing company reinvest in the community," Allen said.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission said Thursday that it would have a significant job-creation announcement in Fort Smith this afternoon. A commission spokesman said the announcement will not be about the Georgia-Pacific expansion.

Business on 05/30/2014

Print Headline: Paper products factory expands

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